Friday, June 29, 2007

The Great White Decline

Say what you want about David Amulet, but he’s certainly a man who celebrates diversity and appreciates other cultures. He may show it oddly—by mocking everyone equally, with the possible exception of the French—but there’s a lot of affection behind it. Or so he’d have you believe.

Among the many countries I respect is Canada. As America’s neighbor to the north, it holds a special place in my heart. Canada has given the world many things to be grateful for, including:

Mike Myers
Finger Eleven
Donald Sutherland
Michael J. Fox
Alexander Keith’s beer
William Shatner
The Guess Who
The phrase, “eh?”
Pamela Anderson

I could go on, but I won’t. It goes downhill from there, trust me.

Because my love for Canada runs so deep, I’m very disappointed in the news out this week about the country’s sad decline. According to Reuters, a recent poll indicates that more than half of Canadians have such a poor understanding of their homeland that they would fail the simple test given to potential immigrants. The results show a 33% decline in basic knowledge from a similar poll taken ten years ago.

Less than 5 percent could identify the three requirements a Canadian must meet to vote. I’m not Canadian, but I already know two of them: When waiting to vote, Canadians must (1) be polite to each other in line, and (2) wear a hockey jersey.

Only about 30 percent could identify the number of provinces and territories. My count may be off, too, but I’m guessing most Canadians forgot to include North Dakota, Maine, and the Gaza Strip.

And, sadly, only 8 percent knew that the Queen was officially Canada’s head of state. The poll didn’t say whether any respondents correctly identified the name of the Queen, which I’m smart enough to know is “Latifah.”

The most disturbing potential lack of Canadian self-awareness, however, didn’t even show up in the poll.

With global warming, it won’t be too long before Canada’s real estate becomes tropical. Soon, the Great White North will be the Great White Beach, a lush paradise containing Earth’s best weather. Do Canadians know they are about to become the destination of choice for the world’s jet set?

Probably. After all, Canadians like Avril Lavigne, Shania Twain, and Céline Dion will be perfect for lounges at cheap resorts.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Disappearing Acts

We all wish some things would just go away. If we all concentrate, can’t we just get rid of them?

I’m thinking of things like cancer. Child abuse. Starvation. Cruelty to animals. Let’s throw in bigotry. Censorship. Holier-than-thou intolerance. Pontificating bloggers.

(Hmmm. Maybe not so fast on that last one.)

Thankfully, one of you out there must have focused really hard of K-Fed, because I haven’t heard about him in months.

But someone’s cheating.

According to this Associated Press story via, a 100-feet-deep, five-acre lake in Chile has vanished.

Again: a body of water, not insignificant in size, has completely disappeared for no reason that experts are yet been able to identify. This is not a false alarm—this is not a test.

Look at the facts. In March, the medium-sized lake was there, according to park rangers. Floating casually on the surface were large pieces of ice … which, by late May, were sitting on the floor of a crater where the water had been. The water? Gone.

No significant geological activity, such as earthquakes, has occurred in the region recently, ruling out the idea that underground fissures allowed the water to escape because scientists cannot find another cause for cracks that could have drained the lake.

So the mystery remains. Whoever visited the lake early this spring and wished it away has an amazing power—one that could be better employed to make these more worthy targets disappear:

Muffin tops. I just heard the phrase to describe this travesty of fashion and human decency, whereby women with flabby midsection overhangs wear tight pants and midriff-bearing shirts. I didn’t need the term, however, to know that it’s better than a cold shower for crushing most men’s sex drives. Hey, clueless women—just go away!

Mike Nifong. Now that he’s lost his job and been disbarred for his scandalous actions during the Duke lacrosse case, this former Durham County District Attorney is going to be tied up in criminal and civil lawsuits until roughly 2019. Great, not only will we keep hearing about this man and his disgusting actions, but the families of these falsely accused students will remain unable to move past the case for far too long. Nifong should call up Kim Jong Il and volunteer his services because his style of “justice” only belongs in a despotic dystopia like North Korea. Hey, ex-lawyer—just go away!

The Democratic and Republican candidate “debates.” I’ve only watched segments, and even those brief glimpses stupefied me. There are no major differences between the Democrats—who all want to keep our bloated federal government rich and fat and who all treat the invasion of Iraq like a war crime, despite the fact that traditional liberals should have applauded the removal of Saddam Hussein (who killed more Muslims than any other person in the 20th century). And the other side is almost as unified in idiocy. When three of the Republican candidates volunteer that they don’t “believe” in evolution, it’s time to write the party off and start over. Hey, two-party system—just go away!

Paris Hilton. I have this feeling that her release form prison will become a media circus, and she will regain her status as the world’s most annoying “celebrity.” But I really, really don’t want to hear anything about this non-talent again. Hey, Publicity Whore 2007—just go away!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

An Ear for the Perfect Song

I enjoy few things in life more than music.

It’s almost always around me. Whether it’s in my car, while I’m working, when I’m playing, and occasionally during my slumber, I’ve got music playing.

But much of it disappoints me.

I’m not saying that I could do better than your average musician. But almost universally, songs fail in at least one way that my ears have the curse of picking up.

At times it’s a vocal line that goes on too long … or cuts off too early. Or it’s a mix that isn’t quite right—too little bass or too much keyboard, for example. Often it’s unnecessary filler vocals or a missed chance for a great drum fill. Whatever the reason, at least 99 times out of 100 I can identify one or more parts of a song that the artist could have done better.

Even very, very good songs usually leave my wanting just a bit more.

I’m thinking here of The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” which goes on a few bars too long. Iron Maiden overlooked an opportunity for a killer intro into “Powerslave,” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” faded out instead of coming to a more fitting, crashing end.

Bono’s overly whiny tone ruins it for me in a few parts of, among others, “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Peter Gabriel utters something incomprehensible after the first verse of “Solsbury Hill” that continues to distract me. And the Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane” is marred by Klaus Meine’s screeching “Are you ready, baby?” and “Come on, come on, baby” during the choruses.

I know, I know … I’m being picky. Trust me, this hurts me more it hurts you.

Despite my keen ability to detect minor disturbances in the audio Force, I have heard some songs—across diverse rock and pop subgenres—that I consider candidates for the “Perfect Song.” These are not my favorite songs of all time; they often aren’t even my favorite songs by the artist that recorded them. I simply cannot think of a single thing I would do to improve them.

Without further ado, here is my partial list of perfect songs:
  • “Ace of Spades” by Motörhead
  • “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers
  • “Anthem” by Rush (other candidate: “Freewill”)
  • “Back in Black” by AC/DC (other candidate: “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”)
  • “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty
  • “Behind Blue Eyes” by the Who
  • “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath (other candidate: “Paranoid”)
  • “Burnin’ For You” by Blue Öyster Cult
  • “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles (other candidate: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”)
  • “Entangled” by Genesis (other candidate: “Firth of Fifth”)
  • “Everloving” by Moby
  • “Family Snapshot” by Peter Gabriel
  • “Fortress Around Your Heart” by Sting
  • “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys
  • “Kickstart My heart” by Mötley Crüe
  • “Kiss” by Prince (“Gett Off” only misses because of its anticlimactic fade)
  • “One” by Metallica
  • “Paradise City” by Guns N' Roses
  • “Machinehead” by Bush
  • “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden (other candidate: “The Number of the Beast”)
  • “Run to You” by Bryan Adams
  • “Spectral Mornings” by Steve Hackett
  • “Synchronicity II” by the Police (other candidate: “Wrapped Around Your Finger”)
  • “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd
Take your shots. I’m all ears.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Almost 18 months ago, I vented here.

Yes, O frequent readers, you are correct: I do that all the time. But I’m referring to a specific post I did way back in those crazy days of January 2006. I know, we were all so young then….

It will only take two minutes to check it out and return to this post. Really. It will pop up in a new window and then you can close it and come back here.

Go there. Now.

Welcome back.

As you know now, I expressed concern about those who see face of Jesus or the Virgin Mary in assorted patterns of paint, tree bark, or nacho warming trays. And like most of us who blog, I felt that my words surely would have a tremendous impact on society, that my brilliant exposition on this topic—viewed by at least 23 of the world’s opinion leaders—would avert any recurrences of such idiocy.

I was wrong.

Lo and behold, some folks in suburban Chicago are catching sight of their late mayor’s visage in the bark of a sycamore tree. If you want to see his actual face and supposed likeness, check out the story, via AP, here.

Let’s play a quick game of Q &A with D.A.:

Does this bark pattern look like the deceased mayor?


Is it even close?


Are the people who see his face coming out of the tree fully in control of their mental faculties?


I think that covers the basics.

Yet it gets worse. One local woman—you guessed it—sees Jesus in the sycamore bark. In her words, anyone who sees the former mayor’s countenance has succumbed to the “power of suggestion.” True story.

There must be a greater power at work here than the power of suggestion. I call it the power of fantasy.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I enjoy a good science fiction or fantasy story. Where I differ from some folks is that I keep a clear line between such fiction and reality. It’s hard sometimes when I can’t explain some of the things The Phoenix writes about, but I manage.

You see, I’m a sensible person. I’ve been bit by reason, and I want to keep it that way.

In this case, the bark is certainly worse than the bite.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Sick and Tired

Well, the news this morning is disturbing.

Our president is ill, feeling a bit weak in the stomach. It's so bad he has to skip one of the G8 sessions.

What could be behind such a tragedy?

It happened while he met with the new French leader, Nicholas Sarkozy. One wonders if even this guy, the most pro-American Frenchman since Lafayette, STILL made the commander in chief ill with his talk of croissants and escargot.

Myriad possibilities exist. Maybe it was bad eggs at breakfast. Maybe it's the stomach flu. Maybe he's disgusted by Bono without sunglasses.

But I suspect another cause.

It was just yesterday that Bush spent hours and hours with Russian President Putin. Sure, they may have resolved the missile defense dilemma, preventing a return to the Cold War ... but there's something about Putin that's just hard to trust.

I've got one word for you, G.W.:


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Stroke This

People in crowds do strange things.

They follow the latest reality show fads. They Sometimes they hurl things at police, flip cars, and smash windows to protest government policies.

They even go in droves to see recycled drivel like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.

But I have finally found an example of mob mentality that speaks to me.

Last Sunday, almost 1,700 guitar players gathered in Kansas City to jointly play the classic riff from Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.”

We’ve seen big groups of musicians get together before. Here are just a few:

  • Band Aid collected dozens of mostly British and Irish artists to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia, releasing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 1984.

  • A group of mostly American musicians calling themselves USA for Africa put out the “We Are the World” single later the same year to feed the hungry and fight disease in Africa.

  • Artists United Against Apartheid recorded “Sun City” in 1985 to protest South Africa’s repressive regime.

  • Metal musicians got in the act, forming Hear ’n Aid in 1985 and putting out the single “Stars” to help African famine victims.

  • In 1997, a diverse group of artists sang Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” for the BBC Children in Need charity.

  • The One World Project brought several British artists together in early 2005 to record “Grief Never Grows Old,” raising money for victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

You’ll notice one thing that the items in this list share: Each gathering was for a cause greater than the music, philanthropy worth the effort to pull busy prima donnas together.

Not so much with this “Smoke on the Water” thing.

This time, instead of feeding the world or ending racism, the cause is much simpler: to break a Guinness world record, currently at 1,323 people playing a song together.

Does that diminish the accomplishment? That’s up to each one of us to decide. For me, it makes the event even greater than these previous efforts. First, there are simply more people. Second, everyone showed up with a guitar for an anonymous role in a world record that few will ever hear about—and even fewer will care about.

Now that’s what I call community spirit. Too bad they didn’t pick a different song to commemorate the communal nature of the effort.

Something like Black Sabbath’s “The Mob Rules.”

Friday, June 01, 2007

A Good Sport

Many things changed when I first moved from Illinois to the eastern United States.

For one, I discovered this strange body of water called an “ocean,” challenging my view that water only gathered in creeks or lakes. Also, life sped up—with people taking less time to do more things than in the relaxing Midwest.

And there were many, many fewer cows.

But here’s what shocked me most: the prevalence of three-letter window stickers advertising car owners’ favorite vacation spots. For example, I began to recognize fans of North Carolina’s Outer Banks from the OBX oval in the back window.

One of the labels, however, befuddled me.

No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much creativity I forced to flow, I could not figure out why so many easterners enjoyed visiting Los Angeles International Airport. Everywhere I went in the mid-Atlantic, I saw the ubiquitous decal.


It took several years of silent humiliation before an unrelated conversation revealed to me that these labels had nothing to do with air traffic in southern California … but instead show their love for a very East Coast sport: lacrosse.

And finally, last weekend, I gained a full appreciation for the sport. Yes, for the first time, I watched lacrosse matches.

In case you missed it, between the shenanigans of Lindsay Lohan and the concerns over drug-resistant TB, we just had one hell of a comeback story. Duke’s men’s lacrosse team—after more than a year of a bungled investigation, overzealous prosecution, and a cancelled season in 2006—overcame a huge deficit against Cornell to make it to the NCAA final match against Johns Hopkins.

The fact that the Blue Devils ultimately failed in the championship against JHU, falling just short of tying the game again as time expired, does not diminish the extraordinary effort. These were two of the most exciting sports events I’ve watched in recent memory.

And to think it was a sport I’d never even heard of back in the 1990s. I feel like celebrating.

Maybe I’ll fly to LAX.